Amazin’ Animals

Adult Augur Buzzard ... not the one described in the vignette below.

Adult Augur Buzzard ... not the one described in the vignette below.

A facebook friend recently posted a short video clip of an adopted porcupine. The prickly quadruped was in an Alaskan home, had just been fed an apple and was turning wild circles on the floor very much as an excited puppy might after receiving a treat.

This precious clip reminded me that Mother Nature is consistent in one very prominent and singular way. That is … she never ceases to astonish. I’ve seen countless examples in the wildlife programs that I religiously record, but I’ve also been witness to a few in person as well.

The most recent instance was in February of this year. I’d just met my friend David Muteti at the Kenya/Tanzania border and we’d stopped for a tea break at a roadside shop en route to Amboseli. My table was set under a lovely arbor, heavily shaded by a thick weave of vines and leaves. Almost directly above me a large but apparently clueless bird sat wailing on one of the heavier sections of vegetation … and every few minutes, smaller birds would sidle up to it and place food into its wide open mouth. After studying all the participants for several minutes I finally realized what I was seeing. A very young and apparently orphaned augur buzzard was crying out for food, and smaller birds of different species were delivering the groceries. For those who may not be familiar with African birds, the augur buzzard is a predator, designed much more like an American hawk than a vulture. So … the buzzard’s plaintive cries had triggered some parental synapse in the brains of the songbirds and they were taking turns feeding a young (but much larger) bird that might some day prey on them.

Another example … this from a recent Wild Kingdom special titled “The Last Lioness.”

The Liuwa Plain is a large game reserve in western Zambia that has suffered mightily from illegal trophy hunting and incursions from warring parties in neighboring Angola. Many of Liuwa’s wildlife species have been decimated, but the lion population has certainly been the hardest hit. A South African wildlife videographer (Herbert Brauer) crossed paths with Lady Liuwa, the last survivor of the last lion pride in the reserve, and followed her over the course of several months.


Lady Liuwa ... taken from the UK Metro.

Lady Liuwa ... taken from the UK Metro.

Anyone who has seen lions in the wild knows they are by far the most social of the great cats. The lionesses greet their sisters with a loving touch of the head, and their communal care of the young ones is so indiscriminate and generous that it’s often difficult to tell which cubs belong to which mother. But Lady Liuwa has learned to thrive without the help of a family … and it was heartrending to see such an innately social animal eke out an existence in an absolutely solitary environment. After being followed by Brauer for four years, Lady L began to make unmistakable gestures of friendship toward him. She’d ease to the side of his vehicle and roll on her back with movements that bordered on the flirtatious. Eventually she began to loiter around his camp and follow him at a respectful distance, always in a non-threatening way. This very social animal was so starved for companionship that she attempted to adopt, or form a family with, a human being. Mr. Brauer was a professional throughout, allowing her a certain closeness but never offering any real encouragement. The balance of the episode describes the measures taken by Brauer and the Zambian wildlife authorities to alleviate Lady L’s unfortunate situation.

Several other examples come to mind. Saba Douglas-Hamilton did a special on a Samburu lioness with a penchant for adopting oryx babies. Joyce Poole provides a couple of wonderful illustrations of eccentric behavior in her book “Coming of Age With Elephants.” I’ll write about those another time, but would encourage anyone with similar animal anecdotes  to share a line or two in the “trackback” associated with this blog entry.

Animals are indeed amazin’, aren’t they?

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